Joltin' Jackson

Tennessee freshman Janzen Jackson is stronger than he looks. Just ask Florida wide receiver Brandon James.

With about a minute left in the first half of last Saturday's Vol-Gator game, James ran a crossing route and caught a Tim Tebow pass in the UT end zone. Before the referee could raise his hands to signal a touchdown, however, Jackson leveled James with a ferocious head-on hit that was (a) perfectly timed, (b) perfectly legal and (c) perfectly wicked. Jackson went flying backwards and the ball came flying loose. The collision was one of the most devastating in college football this fall.

The fact Janzen Jackson packs just 180 pounds on his 6-foot frame didn't matter. The fact he was playing just his third game at the collegiate level didn't matter. All that mattered was that the Lake Charles (La.) native made a big-time play to save a touchdown in a nationally televised showdown. It was an Eric Berry moment.

Berry, of course, is Tennessee's current All-America safety. Jackson may be Tennessee's next All-America safety.

"I think he's going to be an All-American player as long as he stays healthy and keeps practicing hard and preparing hard," head coach Lane Kiffin said this week. "He's one of our hardest practice players. His dad's done a great job of raising him. His dad is a ball coach that was very tough and demanding on him."

In addition to superior physical skills, Janzen Jackson has the football savvy to fully exploit his gifts. That's what makes him the brightest prospect on Vol defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's stop unit.

"Janzen gets it," Kiffin said. "That's part of the reason he came here; he wanted to play for Monte. Janzen wants to be a coach someday, and he knew learning from him would be better than going anywhere else. That was a big part of him coming here. He's going to be a great player."

Jackson is close to being a great player already. He's still a little rough around the edges but some aspects of his game already are at the level of a college senior.

"There are some things he actually does better than Eric," Lane Kiffin said. "He's not the player Eric is yet but we all know he's got the potential to be a great player."

The idea that a true freshman might do ANYTHING better than the inimitable Berry seems unthinkable, yet Kiffin insists Jackson is superior in at least one aspect.

"He actually has looser hips," the Vol head man said. "Eric is a straight-ahead hitter who can cover and do everything but Janzen's got phenomenal (hips). Janzen can go play corner."

Truth be told, Jackson was projected to play corner earlier this year.

"We were thinking 'We've got to start this guy,' and one of the options was keeping Dennis (Rogan) at safety and making Janzen start at corner," Kiffin recalled. "We think he could do that.

"LSU had him committed as a corner. They were going to play him at corner. He's incredible that way. We kept him at safety only because he'd been practicing there and it was easier for Dennis to go out there - being an older guy who had played a lot more corner in his career. That really was the only reason we ended up doing that."

A physical rarity, Jackson has the flexibility and speed to play corner, along with the toughness and tenacity to play safety. He's a tad light for safety at 180 pounds but he's stronger than he looks.

Just ask Brandon James.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories